The Internet of Things is poised to change democracy itself

The basis of a democracy is voluntary civic engagement: A person’s participation in setting government policy is intentional and a matter of choice. In democracies, citizens express their preference through activism and voting.  Historically, governments and politicians eager to do a good job interpreting citizen intent also relied on opinion polls, conversations with civic groups, social science research, and huge record-keeping projects like the census. Politicians have long tried to interpret citizen intent and manipulate it through rhetoric and campaign tricks.

But pervasive device networks will change the rules, making voluntary conversations among elected officials, political parties, lobbyists and civic groups less important than the plethora of near-perfect data generated by the objects around us. Occasional activism and petition-signing will be overshadowed by volumes of behavioral information cleverly extracted from the Internet of Things.

Firms want to know consumer habits, governments want to anticipate the needs of citizens, and politicians will pay handily to understand the whims of voters.  Political lobbying isn’t a new sport, but the Internet of Things is going to be a particularly powerful resource for lobbyists.  The more a lobbyist knows about the behavior of voters and donors, the easier it is to activate those people and organize them into AstroTurf movements on clients’ behalf. Considering that smart data mining costs good money, it’s worth considering whether civic groups, scientists and journalists will have anywhere near enough resources to be effective checks on what the big political players are doing with the Internet of Things.